Barbara Dempsey

Actress playing Constance Markievicz at Friars' Gate Theatre this month

John Rainsford


John Rainsford

Barbara Dempsey

Barbara Dempsey

BORN and raised in Dublin, both my parents are Irish but my mother grew up in England, and only returned to Dublin to go to university, when she was eighteen.

My great grandparents were from Limerick and then moved to Dublin. My husband is very proud of his Limerick heritage, as his grandmother’s family, the Peacocks, can be traced all the way back to the 17th century, when they settled in Limerick at the time of Cromwell. From the age of three I attended the Sacred Heart Convent, Mount Anville, in Goatstown, Dublin. I, then, studied Social Science at University College Dublin (UCD), and later specialised in Public Relations, at the Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) College, in Rathmines. It was only in my late twenties, when I began to study acting that my career turned around.

Acting was never in my family, in fact the furthest thing from it; all of them are professionals so my decision to become an actor came out of left field.

When I was younger I was very influenced by what my parents thought and in getting their approval. I was the youngest of five girls and always looked-up to my older sisters, for their example. It took growing-up a little to realise that everyone’s life choices and paths are different and, clichéd and all as it sounds, in the end you have to follow your own heart. My teacher, Tim McDonnell, at the Stanislavsky Studio, Focus Theatre, has had the greatest influence on me as an actor. His insight, attention to detail, and all around encouragement, was a gift.

Currently, I enjoy both film and theatre work, but realistically you take what you can get; it is just great to be a working actress.

They are very different disciplines and in an ideal world it is great to have a mix of both. Theatre is a more exhilarating ride, it is live performance, so the adrenaline is up and you get to tell the story from beginning to end. For anyone who enjoyed dressing-up, or engaging in make-believe, as a child, being on stage feels a bit like that. It is wonderful to be able to exit your own head and immerse yourself in the thoughts, dreams, and fears of someone else. It’s a great means of escape.

With film there is a different kind of pressure, but you do at least get a second chance, if things go awry.

Scenes are never shot in order; you may be doing the final scene of a film first, so you don’t get the same feeling of living the character and its transition through the story. However, with either format the work tends to be varied which is great, for example you could have monologue plays versus big cast ensembles, Shakespeare versus contemporary playwrights. Then, there is the challenge of working with new material from emerging writers. This has an added responsibility, as you are bringing their story and the character to life, for the first time.

Acting can be very fulfilling but it can also be an insecure life, as you are not getting a steady wage, and you can’t be sure when the next gig is going to come around the corner.

Auditioning is like continually interviewing for a job, and of course, that brings its knocks and disappointments. But having variety in my work ensures that things never get monotonous and the diversity of people you meet is a huge draw. Indeed, I work with people of all ages, backgrounds and personality types. You get to know people very quickly. It’s a bit like playing with team mates on a sports field, braving the stage together dissolves the barriers very quickly. You need to have trust between your fellow actors, and you need to have each other’s backs. The show must go on regardless of what kind of a day you have had, so a supportive team is crucial on those days. In this regard, I have a wonderful agent, Geraldine Dunne, but even with an agent you need to be constantly on the lookout yourself, for upcoming shows and productions. A lot comes by word of mouth, and of course work tends to lead to more work, as they say. The past few months, in particular, have been an exciting time for the Irish film industry with a lot of young acting talent emerging on the world stage.

An interesting journey lies ahead playing this woman, Countess Markievicz.

It is very exciting to get the chance to play her, especially during the centenary celebration year, when there is so much buzz and interest in the 1916 rebellion. Initially, I had performed in a play, called ‘The Puffin’s Nest’, by a new writer called, Oliver McQuillan, in January 2015. Anthony Fox, the artistic director of The New Theatre, had seen me in this play, and although I was playing a completely different type of character, (a psychotic American ghost!), he saw something in me that he thought might work for Markievicz. He called me in for an audition, and thankfully I landed this great part.

We have a great team of talented actors on board, and a wonderful director and writer, overseeing what is almost a two-month nationwide tour, culminating in Paris.

Our last performance takes place in a beautiful church located at the Centre Culturel Irlandais. This is an unusual setting for a play, but a fitting end to what has been an exhilarating journey, and an experience that I am definitely looking forward to!

For more information about Barbara Dempsey please see: barbara-dempsey.html Madame de Markievicz on Trial comes to Friars’ Gate Theatre, in Kilmallock on Saturday 19 March @8pm. For more information please visit the website: